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Ethnic, gender stereotypes bias treatment of Parkinson's disease
Date:7/6/2011

Cultural, ethnic and gender stereotypes can significantly distort clinical judgments about "facially masked" patients with Parkinson's disease, according to a newly published study from researchers at Tufts University, Brandeis University and the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

This can lead to inappropriate and inequitable health care for those suffering from Parkinson's, a common nervous system disorder, particularly in the elderly, with some 50,000 new cases reported in the U.S. each year.

"Practitioners need to better understand the complexities of this disease, and ensure that their own personal cultural biases do not impact their treatment of patients," said lead author Linda Tickle-Degnen, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts.

In research published in the July issue of the journal of Social Science & Medicine, 284 American and Taiwanese healthcare practitioners were evaluated on their responses to videotaped interviews of 24 American and Taiwanese women and men with Parkinson's disease.

The patients had varying degrees of "facial masking," a condition in which the face loses the ability to change expression, creating an appearance of apathy or social disengagement. Practitioners judged the patients on four psychological attributes: sociability, cognitive competence, depression and social supportiveness.

"We know from previous research that facial masking is stigmatizing, but those findings were limited by being conducted in western cultures with mostly whites. Very little investigation has been done on the effect of socio-cultural assumptions and the impact on health care," said Tickle-Degnen.

"Our research found that despite their neurological expertise, practitioners had negatively biased impressions of people with higher masking and those biases were notably more pronounced when facial masking clashed with
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Contact: Katie Cinnamond
katherine.cinnamond@tufts.edu
617-627-4703
Tufts University
Source:Eurekalert

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